The holidays can be a particularly difficult time of the year, between office parties, family get-togethers, friendship reunions, and holiday dinners. They all often lead to an increased amount of emotional distress.
What sort of emotional distresses?
• Emotional sensitivity– You feel easily hurt. Small things tend to set off your emotions. You expect to be rejected and prepare for the worst.
• Emotional reactivity– When something upsets you, you tend to react strongly. At times, your emotions are expressed at a higher intensity than fits a situation. This includes both intense positive emotions and intense negative emotions. Emotional reactivity can be demonstrated with outward reactivity or turned inward, resulting in self-destructive behaviors.
• Slow return to baseline– Once you become upset or emotional, you struggle to return to a calm and neutral baseline of emotions. It might take you hours or days to be able feel yourself again.
If you see yourself in these descriptions, you aren’t alone. These are common struggles that many people deal with. Don’t beat yourself up about this. Instead, know that there are strategies you can turn to that will help you deal with your emotions in a healthy way.
Avoid Bad Habits
Think back to the holidays last year and consider any bad habits you used to manage your emotions. With a lot of social parties, perhaps you turned to alcohol. Maybe you became upset with yourself about how you handled a family situation, so you turned to self-criticism. You may have just tried to suppress your thoughts regarding behaviors you regretted, or maybe you knew that the holidays hold a lot of triggers for you, so you avoided any situation that could have brought about an emotional reaction.
Alcohol, avoidance, self-criticism, and thought suppression are unhealthy ways of dealing with emotions. Think about whether or not you have a tendency to adopt these unhealthy strategies. If you can’t find yourself on this list, consider what other unhealthy strategies you tend to use.
Adopt Healthy Strategies
As you move into the holidays, remember the bad habits you want to remove and the healthy habits you want instead. Here are a few things to consider:
• Prepare for social situations ahead of time- This is one of the most important things you can do over the holidays to manage emotions. The high emotional reactivity and sensitivity that some people experience tend to happen in response to stressful social situations.
Prep yourself ahead of time before you interact socially.
Decide how you will respond to various scenarios that upset you. Begin to develop an awareness of your tendencies in social situations so you can make better choices.
After you’ve decided how you want to behave in these situations, spend some time doing some imagery.
In your mind’s eye, see yourself behaving this way. Practice this daily, leading up to the events.
• Logically assess and problem solve after social situations– While preparing helps, there still may be mistakes that occur. This is okay!
After a social situation, do a self-assessment of how it went.
One great question to ask yourself is whether you created things or overthought things that weren’t actually there. Sometimes, in moments, it can feel as though someone is mad at you, rejecting you, or upset, when this isn’t the case at all. Maybe they were just having a bad day or weren’t feeling well.
Think back-be objective.
Finally, as you go into the holidays, know–because it will happen–that you will experience some negative emotions.
The holidays tend to be stressful.
It is normal to experience a wide variety of emotions during this hectic time of year, which is why it is also a good practice to begin acknowledging and accepting your emotions instead of reacting to them.
Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel without judgement.
Throughout the holidays, find a regular time each day to practice acceptance of your emotions and give yourself emotional space.